In the weeks following the Christmas season, starting on January 20, Valletta will assume the role of European Capital of Culture. All is set for this unique year and, evidently, we are aiming that it doesn’t end there.
The term ‘legacy’ has been an important feature in my many statements concerning Valletta 2018. The message is clear. Valletta’s legacy is far from being just a brand. Its significance is at the core of Malta’s and its people’s historic and cultural identity. With this heritage comes a way of living, indeed a lifestyle of which we cannot afford to lose sight of once Valletta 2018 is over.
The government and the Valletta 2018 Foundation are working together to create an agency which will guarantee this cultural legacy after 2018. This will in turn create a culture of sustainability within the respective sectors such as the tourism and culture industries.
However, although we all seem to accept and speak of it,there has not been much of a wider distinction of what we mean by the term legacy.
In my opinion, there are five crucial pillars that guarantee a fruitful legacy that will strengthen Valletta’s identity and perpetuate this unique title.
Financial support for the culture sector is definitely an important pillar. This includes available funds for arts scholarships, funds for cultural projects, and a fair funding scheme for freelance artists and other arts practitioners.
The European Commission’s Europe 2020 strategy is enabling the EU to provide more attractive framework conditions for creativity, including better access to funding for the industry itself. The EU has proven its commitment to this industry by launching Creative Europe to support the culture sector, making way for financial institutions that are either embedded in cultural activity, or sustaining culture in various ways.
As an active and exemplary member state, Malta should look into small institutions that finance creative projects, and support cultural consultancies to aid artistic SMEs develop properly. Culture and innovation are crucial to development in a widening number of sectors, especially the relationship between the arts and society. The growing sector of social entrepreneurship is one such example.
Political support is a must. There was a time where the culture sector seemed to be distanced from other seemingly more ‘worthy’ sectors. If politicians, such as myself, urge for further investment in the research and upkeep of this sector and connect with its practitioners, we can be assured that more people will fulfil and realise their artistic potential, sustain their practice across the arts, and indeed have an active stake in the culture industry.
For many years, culture was perceived almost as an afterthought, taken for granted as a marginal aspect of local and foreign politics. More so, though funding in the EU budget was always forthcoming, there has been a reluctance to tap into them.
I believe that EU member states should continue to enhance resources for cross-border cultural activities. In the Maltese context, and in view of Valletta 2018, I strongly believe that 2018 should be the year where culture is given a more important role in political initiatives. We must find new ways to integrate cultural initiatives and push them to take more of a central place in the European agenda.
Then, there is public demand. We must ensure that the culture sector lives up to its full potential and integrate with other social streams for a better life for our people. This has already been done through schemes like the Culture Pass in schools, where artists of different backgrounds tour schools and showcase short plays, original stories, or visual arts to name a few.
However, for a stronger cultural impact on society, we must look into extending cultural integration to industries such as innovation, communication and technology, tourism, education, and social well-being.
Fostering a creative ambition: 2018 should be a year where we become more aware of the need for our artists to be free to express their talent in whichever way possible. They should be given a chance to engage in a wider variety of artistic activity in different spaces.
We are already creating such spaces through entities such as Teatru Malta, Żfin Malta, and a wider access to arts funding. In this manner, we can break away from more ‘traditional’ forms of art and create innovative and interactive show cases which place the audience at their very core.
This should also be read against a picture of flourishing artistic activity in Malta, which has been strongly and steadily sustained by this government through generous State funding for the arts, building on the success of previous administrations.
This saw Malta’s practitioners across the arts not only produce excellent work locally, but showcasing their work through their participation in the international field, both in Europe, the United States, and across the globe.
Last but not least, we must push for social curiosity. Let us turn the Maltese creative and cultural industries into something which our citizens look forward to, as an area of growth and development which they want to see the government further support financially, and which they want to be part of.
We can achieve the latter through further investment in arts and cultural research to determine what local and international audiences want from artistic and creative communities. Through cultural research, we can also engage with our arts practitioners to take note of how we can offer better working conditions, and provide different opportunities for them to showcase their talent. This is how we can be one with our artists and help the cultural sector continue to grow.
International cultural research, such as the Palmer Report which was published in 2004, has already proven that the European Capital of Culture brand has improved the cities’ cultural brands, as it emphasises diversity, collaboration, and above all, community development.
All these values eliminate social and economic barriers through artistic, creative, and cultural participation, and encourage further audience participation and widening audience numbers in cultural activities.
After 2018, Valletta will have achieved a clearer brand distinction and will be able to identify itself more clearly in the European and global context.
Similarly, Malta as a whole will proudly outline this unique experience to its locals, and visitors.
In just a few weeks we will all embark on a unique cultural journey where we will enhance our appreciation and understanding of our true identity through more than 400 stories which will be told through art and performing arts in 12 short months. These stories will also inspire international artists to tell our tales in their own home countries, so that Valletta 2018’s legacy will even impact foreign cities.
It is going to be a great year for our artists, for people who were born and live in Valletta. But above all it will be an extraordinary year for all Maltese. We have to make sure that all this does not end with the end of 2018 and transform Valletta into an eternal city.
We look forward to see you on January 20 for the beginning of this never-ending story.